Iran's "Merry Minuet"

By Fraser Martin on August 23, 2015

Around  1960 the Kingston Trio recorded Sheldon Harnick's satirical ditty "The Merry Minuet" which, while underlining the climate of discord and hate prevailing in the world recalls that mankind had been endowed with "the mushroom shaped cloud"and that someday inevitably someone will "set the spark off…..and we will all be blown away". We have just recently been given a stark reminder of the consequences of such action through images of the destruction, devastation and death wreaked upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. 

Against that background the world continues to attempt to assess the consequences of the Iran nuclear treaty agreed to in principle last month in Geneva. Understandably Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has qualified the agreement as "a stunning historic mistake". There is little in it which may benefit Israel save that it may operate to preserve her nuclear monopoly and unrivalled power in the region for another decade or possibly longer. On the other hand the agreement hugely benefits Iran and at least four of the nations involved directly in the negotiations. It will also eventually benefit any others that can take advantage of the lifting of the sanctions and the resumption of commercial relations. The consequences for the United States, at least in the immediate future, are more nebulous. It may have permitted Barack Obama to write his political epitaph for the history books. 

merry_minuet.JPGThe nuclear issue, ostensibly the centerpiece of the agreement, in reality may prove to be little more than a bogeyman for the lifting of the sanctions, the recasting of Iran as a rising power in the region, the rekindling of its economy, its repatriation from a position of relative isolation or, in short, its "coming in from the cold". This, one may suggest, is what deeply troubles the Israeli government, rather than the bomb itself. Indeed many see Netanyahu's insistence on the nuclear issue as an exaggeration.As far back as 2010 the former Chief of the Israeli Defense Forces and the then head of the Mossad declined to support the Prime Minister's proposal for a pre-emptive military strikebecause they deemed the danger posed by Iran's nuclear program insufficient to justify such an action. As defense systems have evolved in their sophistication that assessment has in all probability not changed. 

The agreement does not in any way imply a lessening of the United States historic commitments toward Israeli defense. America is cooperating both technologically and financially in the development of the three-tier anti-missile defense system currently being completed in Israel. If reports are accurate, the arrival of the first F-35 jet aircraft next year will give Israel the capacity to neutralize and render ineffective any threat from the Russian S-300 surface to air missile defensive system slated for delivery to Iran later this year. Under the terms of the treaty this system may not, in any event, be delivered for at least five if not eight years. Given the relatively warm state of diplomatic relations currently existing between Russia and Israel President Vladimir Putin may be reluctant to attempt to circumvent the terms of the treaty.  

Treaty or no treaty, visceral hatred of Israel notwithstanding,  a nuclear enabled Iran is not, and probably never will be prepared to employ a nuclear device against Israel in furtherance of its ambitions in the region even assuming that it were technicallyable to do so. Israel, as Ambassador Rafael Barak pointed out, is a "one bomb state". It follows that  the West Bank and Gaza would hardly escape the fallout in every sense of that word in the event of any such attack. Furthermore the repercussions would be terminally lethal for Iran whether through Israeli or US retaliation. Netanyahu is surely overreaching when he insists that the agreement threatens the very survival of Israel.

While the agreement, if ratified, may postpone for 10 years Iran's actual acquisition of a nuclear bomb it does not alter the fact that Iran is today a nuclear threshold state. This raises a valid concern. The treaty is not based upon a question of trust. Rather it is ostensibly built upon a process of verification. However as Professor Irwin Cotler points out in a recent opinion piece in the Montreal Gazette that verification process is far from watertight and may well prove to be unenforceable. Furthermore, Cotler argues, the sanctions once lifted, will be extremely difficult to re-impose if the inspection process breaks down. The only potential winner here is Iran. 

There appears to be general agreement that without the treaty Iran in any event has the capacity to acquire a nuclear devicewithin months, or at the latest, a year. That would have two far reaching effects. Firstly it would have put an immediate end to Israel's current nuclear monopoly in the region. Despite long standing official silence Israel, which is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Pact, is reputed to possess at least 80 nuclear devices together with the means for delivery. Secondly it would almost certainly have launched a race for the acquisition of nuclear weapons by other states in the region, notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia. If such a race has been avoided, at least for the present, so much the better. 

The more immediate danger flowing from the treaty arises from the lifting of the sanctions. This in turn will result in the rapid freeing up of between US$100 billion and US$150 billion, according to Ambassador Barak, in Iranian assets currently frozen around the globe. This will enable Iran to rebuild its economy, its infrastructure, develop and enhance its technical capacity and resume the exportation of petroleum products.However, according to Israeli media, the agreement has already permitted Iran to resume financial aid principally to Hezbollah and Hamas. During the last few weeks Israel has been forced to close the Kerem Shalom border crossing into Gaza through which much of the material destined for reconstruction was being shipped when some of it was found to contain,surreptitiously hidden within cement and other construction materials, items clearly destined for tunnel construction and forthe fabrication of rockets and propellant. Netanyahu surely has reason to insist that the agreement will increase Iranian support of aggression and terrorist activity within Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza at the hands of the "usual suspects".

The Canadian government has thus far adopted a cautious course of wait and see. That is as it should be. According to the Prime Minister domestic sanctions will remain in place until Iran renounces support for Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad and desists from interference in Syria and in Yemen. In the face of the upcoming election the treaty will surely be a live issue.Justin Trudeau, at least initially appeared to support the approach aimed at re-establishing diplomatic and commercial relations with Iran. According to Marc Garneau and Paul Dewar both the Liberals and the NDP respectively now appear to favor the position that if Iran is compliant with the terms of the treaty then the government should say clearly that Canada will comply with the agreement and will play its part to support its objectives being realized. Given Hamas' and Hezbollah's continued commitment to the destruction of the State of Israel and Iran's supporting role the Liberal and NDP positions are difficult to reconcile with the fundamental principles upon which both these parties are founded. Iran after all remains a purveyor of hatred and a "bagman" for what this country considers to be terrorist organizations. And so The Merry Minuet continues.

Fraser Martin is a retired Superior Court judge and commentator on public affairs. 


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